Healthy Schools Network, in collaboration with U.S. EPA and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), has declared Monday, April 26, 2010 "National Healthy Schools Day."
What are the signs of an unhealthy school? According to the Healthy Schools Network website, your school has an environmental problem if:
· The roof leaks.
· The building is new or newly renovated and still smells like paint, varnish, or glue.
· The building smells damp or musty.
· Your child has health or learning problems ONLY during the school day.
· The building and grounds are routinely treated with pesticides.
WHAT TO ASK YOUR SCHOOL
· Do you prevent pests without the use of chemicals?
· How do you promote good indoor air quality?
· Do you tell parents and employees in advance of hazards, such as renovation or pesticide application?
· How do you respond to complaints?
· Are the heating, lighting, ventilation, windows, doors, and buses energy efficient?
Nancy Swan was injured more than two decades ago while teaching at a junior high school. The following article appears in Southern Mississippi's Sun Herald in honor of National Healthy Schools Day.
As a teacher in Mississippi, I suffered permanent damage to my eyes, respiratory system and nervous system when the Long Beach School Board allowed a contractor to apply a spray-on foam roof during the school day. A thousand children and personnel were exposed to some of the most toxic chemicals manufactured, including toluene diisocyanate, which causes asthma. Two dozen children and teachers were also injured.
My injury was not an isolated incident. The EPA reports that 50 percent of the nation’s public and private schools have problems linked to poor indoor air quality that endanger the health of children and personnel, and that “students are at greater risk because of the hours spent in school facilities and because children are especially susceptible to pollutants.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports that asthma, caused and exacerbated by environmental pollutants, has increased at an alarming rate, with the highest rates in the child and adolescent population.
According the the EPA, “Scientific evidence has long demonstrated an association between poor indoor air quality and respiratory health effects, including asthma.”
Every month, dozens of school children and personnel nationwide report exposure to and injuries from air contaminants and toxins inside schools, including:
· Chemical fumes from construction and renovation
· High CO2 levels
· Poor ventilation
· Natural gas leaks
· PCB caulking
· Pollution and fumes from nearby factories and toxic waste landfills
· Cleaners, 25 percent of which contain cancer-causing agents
I was dismayed to discover no local, state, nor federal agencies had authority to prevent the storage and use of hazardous chemicals in schools, nor to investigate injuries. In the 25 years since my injury, little has changed. “Sick Schools 2009,” a collaborative report by Healthy Schools Network, reveals that there is “no outside public health or environmental agency responsible for providing effective enforcement, protections or interventions specifically for school children at risk of or suffering from the effects of poor air quality, chemical mismanagement and spills, or other hazards.”
To right the wrongs, I became an activist and speaker to promote Healthy Schools Network, U.S. EPA Tools for Schools Program, and National Healthy Schools Day.
To read the full article, click here. For more about National Healthy Schools Day, visit their website.
One additional note: Boston Public Schools has laid off more than 80 custodians in order to balance the budget. An article in the Metro Boston News links this move with a possible increase in asthma rate, citing the custodians' job of cleaning mold and clearing dust:
In last year's annual environmental inspections, the top 21 schools with the highest number of environmental problems had asthma rates of 13 to 48 percent — well over the state rate of 10.8 percent.
“Sending children with asthma into poorly maintained schools is like sending canaries in the mines to forecast a hazard,” Tolle Graham, a member of the Boston Urban Asthma Coalition, testified at the March 24 budget hearing.
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.